NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured a stunning high contrast image of the asteroid Bennu during its record-breaking orbit, the space agency has announced. The image was captured on June 13 from an orbit taking place 0.4-miles above the asteroid’s surface, making it the closest-ever orbit performed by a spacecraft. The asteroid’s rocky, jagged surface is displayed in incredible detail.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was launched in September 2016, its destination being the asteroid known as 101955 Bennu. The spacecraft arrived at its destination months ago resulting in a number of rapid-fire discoveries and images. Scientists learned that Bennu has a very rocky surface, that it contains water, and that it emits particle plumes.
NASA plans for OSIRIS-REx to spend two years mapping the asteroid, a process that will involve searching for the ideal site from which a sample can be gathered. The Bennu mission is unique in that NASA plans to use a robotic arm attached to the spacecraft to collect rocks and loose dust from the asteroid’s surface.
These samples will be safety stored in the spacecraft and, assuming everything goes according to plan, the items will be delivered back to humans on Earth in September 2023, nearly a decade after the vessel was launched into space. It’s an incredibly ambitious effort, and it has once again produced an incredible image.
According to NASA, which shared the image on Twitter today, OSIRIS-REx captured the photo shortly after the orbital insertion that took place on June 13. This was the second orbital insertion performed by the spacecraft, which managed to capture the asteroid while it was half in shadows, the rest of the surface bathed in sunlight.
The NavCam 1 navigation camera on OSIRIS-REx captured the image, which displays details as fine as 1.6ft across. The second orbit referred to as Orbital B by NASA broke the previous record for the closest-ever orbit of an asteroid. At this time, the spacecraft is now whizzing around Bennu less than half a mile above its surface.